Up early for a 7:15 departure to the Parliament building in Naypyidaw.
The approach is as special as the building, being a 20 lane sheet of concrete completely deserted of traffic, since cars are not normally allowed.
We had permission to use the road early, before Parliament opened, for a photo shoot but were not allowed to stop and take pictures of the building itself.
Oh, and “No racing”. Apparently previous groups have used the road as a race track and incurred the wrath of the police. We went from the hotel to the Parliament in police convoy, which was ok until we reached the end of the road past the building and then were taken in convoy on a tour around town, which was not planned.
We eventually managed to stop them and ask to be taken back to a point on our roadbook, and off they went to the wrong place. Several U-turns and about half an hour later, we were finally on our way.
All except David and Debbi that is, who discovered a puncture and had to change a wheel. They then hurried to catch us up; hurried all the way to the next hotel arriving first, still thinking that we were ahead. And Stuart had a heroic day. He discovered an oil leak which needed fixing at a garage where rather too much help was on hand (and a veritable Aladdin’s Cave, or should we say fridge freezer, was there to be explored), but by the time a certain part had been rushed up from Yangon, it was 4pm before he left Naypyidaw. He did the whole drive alone, in two hours something, finishing in the dark. That is commitment!
Talking of heroic and help being on hand…. Our very own Dr Luc spotted a chap who had fallen off his motorbike (possibly from too much alcohol) and didn’t seem to be getting much help from his friends around him. So Dr Luc hopped out and did what he could, and also took the opportunity to get a quick cuddle with a small person.
As for the rest of us, what a day we had? We headed out of town more or less still in convoy and found our road to Magway which was a revelation. It looks nothing on the map but soon seduced us with it’s driving pleasure. A thin strip of tarmac, only one car wide, headed off into the future, cresting blind brows before plunging down dips then swooping up steep inclines to the next hill. We were climbing all the time around constant bends with thankfully very little traffic.
As the road is only one car wide, road widening was underway with teams of mainly women, and men standing around supervising(!), extending the surface by hand. Earth first, then rocks are laid, followed by sand and tarmac delivered liquid in oil drums. Primitive but effective, and the road crew still had time to smile for us.
At one point we reached a ridge with what would have been panoramic views either side of the road, if only there was no smoky haze, a feature at this time of year. Our descent from the hills brought us out onto a flat plain and the road disappeared into the distance, encouraging us to press on.
One hazard did catch a few out. This is the dry season and the road crossed a number of dry river beds which for some reason have sunken drops in the road followed by an equally unexpected rise. We would call them holes! Taken at speed it would have been terminal but fortunately we all survived undamaged.
We passed north of Magway before joining Route 2 heading north to Bagan. We crossed the Pin River Bridge but the river was not much in evidence. The river bed did support some paddy fields which no doubt were inundated in the rainy season.
Although we saw fruit trees in the hills, the small farms seemed to be mixed agriculture, a few cows, chickens and some spindly corn. With plenty of evidence of more familiar local transport
On the plain, it was bone dry just like driving through the desert. The crops here are peanuts and sesame which we guess needs less water.
Our route was interrupted on many occasions to pay tolls, but rather thoughtfully, our Myanmar agent Zani had gone ahead and paid for us all.
The other ‘interruption’ on the way was “Temple collections”. Outside each temple we passed, a group of adherents stood in the road shaking metal bowls filled with coins to raise money for their temple’s next project. A loud speaker droned what may have been a motivational message, could we have understood. Drivers throw coins in the bowls without stopping, to gain ‘good Karma’ but some of us stopped to make a small donation and take pictures.
The reaction we have had in Myanmar to us and the cars has been nothing short of amazing. We just have to smile and wave, and the whole truck/bus/bullock cart erupts with laughter and cheering. In the villages, there is always something interesting to see; always something happening.
We arrived at our Bagan Hotel in high spirits. Bagan is the ancient capital of Myanmar and a sacred place to the Myanmar people. It sits on a 26 square mile plain in a bend in the river Ayeyarwady and is one of the worlds great archeological sites. Some 2,230 temples exist of 4,450 originally built between 1057AD and 1287AD and tomorrow we are due to visit them by rather unfamiliar transport. A hot air balloon.
Virtually everybody said it had been our best day yet, the driving sublime and the scenery exquisite.